Monday, March 9, 2009

At the COPAA...COPAAcabana...

Last weekend I attended the COPAA (The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) annual conference in downtown DC. They are a national organization supporting special education rights and advocacy. Their website is a wealth of information and resources, including listings of attorneys and advocates.

I have all kinds of things to think about after attending this conference. I'll go into some of those in a minute. First, I have to share with you that I got to meet Ange from Tis My Life. She came out to the conference to spread some information and awareness about restraints and seclusion rooms.

Isn't she pretty? And righteous!

I was really happy to have a buddy to hang out with, but I am extra glad that it was Ange, because she turned out to be a really cool, fun, smart woman. I kinda miss her already.

I also ran into my educational consultant, who attended one day of the conference. It was nice to spend some time with her without having to worry about what was going to happen with Jack.

It was an intense and tiring weekend for me. I came home at the end of each day and just crashed. Something about having to pay so much attention to such a complicated subject did me in. I have a whole bunch of things to look up and research now. I also have a lot of acronyms to type into the internet to see exactly what the hell these people were talking about.

I did come away with some very useful ideas, lessons, and information. Some of it will help me in the long run with building an advocacy practice. Some of it will help me this month, when we go into Jack's annual review meeting.

That meeting was originally supposed to be tomorrow, but because the special education teacher is sick, it has been postponed a couple of weeks. I'm happy to hear that actually, because it gives me some time to look at the draft IEP we just got with new eyes.

I spent a big chunk of time there feeling really underqualified, intimidated, and overwhelmed. This is mostly due to me and my insecurities—and the fact that both as a parent dealing with special education and as someone going into advocacy, I am brand new. There is so much to learn, and so many specifics to absorb. And there is a certain attitude of know-it-all-ness that I have yet to perfect.

The conference made me little depressed also. There are so many bad things that happen in special education. I get that these kids are harder and that sometimes they seem weird or need a lot of extra help, but it is just so hard to hear stories about educators that clearly do not care about these children. By no means do I think all or even most educators are like that, but some seem to be, and it is mind numbingly horrifying.

Another thing I felt though, was gratitude. I felt gratitude that I live in a school district that, yes, has many problems, but that isn't as flat out horrible as some of them out there. I felt gratitude that my children attend a school where my hiring a lawyer and an educational consultant didn't turn the staff against me. I felt gratitude that my IEP team treats me and my family with respect.

Granted, I'm now terrified of Jack going to high school after hearing some of the stories, but we have some time before he has to go there, and I'm relatively sure that they'll have found a way to stop time before then. Oy.

I also spent a substantial amount of time annoyed at this one woman who just would...not...shut...up. At the ending keynote, the executive director of the organization literally tried to pry the microphone out of this woman's hands, and she wouldn't give it up. In one of the sessions, I was sitting next to my educational consultant who couldn't hack it anymore and finally asked the speaker to stop answering her questions and move on. This was met with surreptitious thumbs-upping and quiet kudos from the back rows.

I have to say, I am really glad I went. It was good to be around people that work in support of special education. It felt nice to see speakers who spend their lives working to help children like mine. There are people out there trying hard. There is so much being done, but it's clearly not enough.

That might be the biggest lesson that I took from the conference: There is still so much to be done.


  1. I kinda miss you too. Like in a dang I met this cool girl who has a great sense of humor, smiles patiently at my wisecracks, and doesn't slap me as I rattle on about my topic de jour. Look how happy I was...still beaming from meeting you! And that was after walking around capitol hill all day long. I felt kinda weird at the conference too...lots of mixed up wanting to screw it all now that we are homeschooling...and then wanting to take the energy i am conserving from IEP hell and applying it to more global advocacy. I think after the seclusion room issue, I am going to find a way to address my school's policy that outside consultants can't obeserve and parents are limited for a few hours. And that it is district practice that paraprofessionals can't attend IEP meetings. Can you do a class action suit against a school district? This effects and harms all the SPED kids in our district...if I can get lots of families to be part of the suit, maybe it won't cost me 30K?

    And I will always call you "Stimey" and I am so happy that's OK.

    And here is one of the save you time: (The more I learn the less I seem to know!)

  2. 1. I think it is awesome that you will be working in advocacy. I know you will do a really good job helping kids and parents.

    2. the attitude of all-know-itness to which you refer is really properly the domain of first borns. Not that it can't be learned, I just suspect that it is a lot tougher for a youngest child like yourself to ever perfect the... smarmy attitudes that come a bit more naturally to us first borns.

    3. Kudos to Ange. I worked briefly as a SPED aide and seeing the little padded cell that they used when one of the bipolar kids was having a break down is one of the most horrifying things i have ever seen. by the way, as an aide i came to IEP meetings in that school district.

  3. The title made me smile. :-)
    Sounds like it was a really good conference and I'm sorry I couldn't attend. I look forward to hearing more about it from you and Ange as time goes by.

  4. Take heart -high school, like all the other schools, mainly depends on the teachers. There are some wonderful teachers where Jack may go. As long as you continue to be involved, he will be fine. The scary time for me was middle school (kids, not teachers).

  5. Thanks for opening our eyes...

  6. It sounds like you really got a lot out of the conference. That's awesome. I wish I could say something more but I'm giggling over the image of the microphone clutching lunatic.

  7. There is ALWAYS a microphone-clutching, nonsensically-jabbering person in every gathering. EVERY ONE.

    My goal? is NOT to be that person. EVER. :)

  8. Good for your consultant! The only way it could have been better (probably not really) is if she had told the crazy to Shut the Eff Up.

    Oh, and I'm glad you got so much out of it.

  9. Sounds like you're a single-minded dedicated and driven student of the special ed world and all it entails. I have complete confidence that you will learn everything you need to know - you're one smart cookie!

  10. I think you're going to be a GREAT advocate. I mean, who could possibly be better than someone who has her own personal experience?! Plus, who is so smart and well-spoken. What a great outlet for you, too, to know that everything you learn will be turned right around and passed on to help others.


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